The First Sunday of Lent
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The Collect, readings and prayers can be found here:
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Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God and saying: ‘the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the Good News’.
“Read the standing orders! Read them and understand them!”
Those words come from a meeting that spiralled out of control just before Christmas at the Handforth Parish Council which was held online, on Zoom. The meeting went viral a week or so ago in light of the sensational outbursts and ‘disrespectful’ behaviour and sniping of the Councillors and staff of the sleepy town which connects Cheshire to Greater Manchester. The video has become so popular, due to its extremity, that people have produced songs about it, and it even caught the attention of Andrew Lloyd Webber. It is sensational that a formal meeting could descend to such chaos, where there was in equal measure disrespect, smugness and rude behaviour from all the participants which led to the Vice Chair screaming those words: “read the standing orders! Read them and understand them!” All in all, it was a very public display of sin.
Read the standing orders! Read them and understand them! Today, we are invited to do just that; not the standing orders of the parish council meeting, but rather the standing order of the scriptures, contained in Jesus’ phrase on this Sunday, the first of Lent, which, in many ways, sums up the whole message of the scriptures: repent.
Do we read the standing order of the scriptures? Do we read them and understand them? In other words, do we understand Jesus’ call for repentance and carry it out? Or do we let it gloss over us? Do we live in sin? Or do we live the life of God?
Nine times out of ten, we let those words gloss over us and in so doing, we miss the fundamental call of Lent, that we should consciously move away from the things that separate us from God and move towards the new life available to us in Christ our Lord.
What then are we to move away from? If we turn to the Book of Common Prayer we are given the answer. In times gone by there was a great stress on public repentance of public sin. The service of commination, otherwise known as ‘denouncing God’s anger and judgements against sinners’ is about conviction, being convicted if our sins, so that we may more consciously recognise our own, and so be restored to God.
Far from comfortable, the words makes you sit up straight, or rather, fall hard to your knees in shame; there is no glossing over sin here. Your potential sins are exposed and brought into the light:
CURSED is the man that maketh any carved or molten image, to worship it.
Cursed is he that smiteth his neighbour secretly.
Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, and taketh man for his defence, and in his heart goeth from the Lord.
Cursed is he that maketh the blind to go out of his way.
And the list goes on covering the commandments. What the service is getting at is rather simple, that we acknowledge our sins and repent of them.
Enter not into judgement with thy servants, who are vile earth, and miserable sinners; but so turn thine anger from us, who meekly acknowledge our vileness.
Read then the standing orders, read them and understand them:
repent, turn away from sin.
How do we repent? We repent by acknowledging, by bringing before God our sins honestly, not cloaking them, but bearing them before him. We repent according to the scriptures, when we actively move away from the things that are ‘vile’ to him that possess us.
Whatever our sins may be, be that worshipping other things besides God, be that slandering our neighbours in secret, be that colluding with others sinfulness and causing others to stumble, we are called to move away from them; literally, to do a u-turn away from our current state.
What is the end game of our repentance? It is life: new life. Repentance brings new life, because by it God allow us to be ‘restored again’, words from the Commination.
If we are active in repentance, then the covenant between Go and humanity that we heard of in our first reading is renewed. Repentance means that we are not lost to the waves of sin, the deep waters of distress and separation from God, repentance means we are brought back into the safety of the ark. If we repent, fully, truthfully and with sincerity, then the dirt that covers us, as Saint Peter reminds us, is removed. Repentance makes present the saving death of Jesus Christ in our bodies and souls. And it is by that death, that we are made holy to God.
Each of us sins. Each of us is unworthy. Each of us can be vile in our behaviour. None of us are excused of our sins. And yet, true repentance make us holy; true repentance restores grace lost; true repentance makes us alive in the spirit.
Read the standing orders, read them and understand them: repent, and turn away from sin, that we may know forgiveness and God’s power to save.
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